God Can Use You
Passage: Esther 4
Most of you know that I was a youth pastor for 9 years, and one of the great joys of working with teens was watching the transformation that would often take place during that 6 year period. There were many times that a new 7th grader would come into youth group, and there didn’t seem to be much there from a spiritual standpoint. Some were just knuckleheads, and others would hardly say a word. Most had little desire for God’s truth and little appreciation for the bigness of God and the gospel.
But it was awesome to watch the light come on and to see many of those same kids graduate with a hunger for God and tremendous leadership qualities. There really are few greater blessings in life than watching God transform a life.
Today we get to watch God do a similar work in Esther’s life. At the beginning of Esther 4, she is isolated, fearful, and living a life of luxury because of her compromise with the world. But at the end of the chapter, she takes a courageous stand for righteousness and risks her life to do so.
And so this is quite a story of transformation. But as is the case throughout Esther, this story is also an incredible testament to God’s hand of providence. Remember that the Book of Esther never mentions God’s name, but the narrator comes as close in this story as he does anywhere else to pointing our attention to God’s influence.
Therefore, I hope that we will all be encouraged by this story because it reminds us that God always has a purpose and that he is very good at taking flawed people like us and molding them into useful servants. But I also pray that we will be challenged as we consider what task God might want us to fulfill and whether or not we are courageously pursuing his purpose for us.
That being said, let’s jump back into the incredible story of Esther, which picks up in vv. 1–3 with…
The Devastation of the Jews (vv. 1–3)
Remember that chapter 3 ended on a bleak note. Haman the Horrible, as you could say, got Ahasuerus the Apathetic, to sign off on his plot to eradicate the Jewish race. And they closed their day of evil planning by enjoying a drink, even while their brutal plot put the city in an uproar. This is the darkest moment of the book.
The Jews (v. 3)
And chapter 4 opens by narrowing the scene to the reaction of Mordecai and the other Jews as they learned of Haman’s horrible plot. Verse 3 tells us that Jews throughout the Persian Empire mourned deeply as they learned of the terrible plot, over the course of several days and weeks.
They wore sackcloth, which was a rough garment, made of goat hair, and they put ashes on their heads. And then they went through the streets wailing as an expression of their sadness. This is kind of strange to us in our Western context. We tend to mourn privately, but it is quite normal in Eastern cultures for people to express grief publicly and openly.
Mordecai (vv. 1–2):
And specifically Mordecai reacted this way when he learned of the decree. He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and covered his head in ashes. Then he took a symbolic walk through Susa expressing his sadness, and he marched right up to the king’s gate.
He had to stop there because Mordecai looked like a wreck. Today you can spend $100+ on a pair of designer jeans that are all ripped up. It’s cool to look beat up and even to wear a scorn on your face. But it wasn’t in Susa. The king only allowed people into the palace complex that were well dressed and had a smile on their face. You might recall that Nehemiah later risked his life by appearing sad in the presence of Ahasuerus’s son Artaxerxes.
Therefore Mordecai had to stop at the gate, where he made a public scene mourning the king’s decree. It was so public that it caught the attention of Esther’s staff leading to a long dialogue between Esther and Mordecai.
Verses 4–14 describe…
Mordecai’s Persuasion of Esther (vv. 4–14)
Esther has now lived in the palace for close to 6 years and has been queen for close to 5 years, but no one knows she is a Jew. And very few people know of her relationship to Mordecai. Therefore Esther is very careful to conceal this dialogue with Mordecai by sending intermediaries back and forth.
Stage 1 (v. 4):
Verse 4 tells us that when Esther heard that Mordecai was outside the gate looking so beleaguered and making such a loud scene, she was distressed. But she had no idea why Mordecai was upset. She knew nothing of the king’s decree, and she had completely closed herself off from the Jewish people.
But she was very concerned and so being the typical woman that she was, she couldn’t stand for Cousin Mordecai to look so ridiculous, and she sent him a clean change of clothes. But Mordecai refused them. How could he dress up in a fine outfit at such a terrible moment?
Stage 2 (vv. 5–9):
When the clothes were returned, Esther began to understand that something very serious was going on, and she called on a Hathach to go learn more. Poor Hathach is going to find himself in the middle of a very heavy conversation. He must have been a very trustworthy man based on the information that he is asked to carry.
Verse 6 tells us that Hathach met Mordecai in the city square outside the king’s gate. And Mordecai told Hathach everything that had happened. He even gave Hathach a copy of the decree to show to Esther. Mordecai wanted Esther to see it for herself so that she would understand just how significant this was. He even told Hathach about the bribe Haman had given, which he probably learned about through his connections in the palace.
But Mordecai does more than ask Hathach to relay the king’s decree. Verse 8 states that he hold Hathach to “command” Esther to go before the king and plead for the Jewish people.
It’s important that we not miss the significance of this command. Mordecai loved Esther, and roughly 6 years earlier he had urged her to keep her identity hidden at all costs. He couldn’t stand the thought of putting her in harm’s way. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
Now he “commands” Esther to risk her life and stand with the Jewish people. I’m sure it broke Mordecai’s heart to ask Esther to do this, but he saw no other way forward.
Of course, Hathach understood the weight of this also. It may have been the first time he learned that Esther was a Jew, and he understood what Mordecai was asking. And so he returned to Esther with the decree in hand and with Mordecai’s weighty demand.
You can imagine Esther’s reaction when she read what her husband had signed off on. He decreed “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women” (3:13). It must have stung, especially if Esther had any of her own children.
Then imagine how it must have hit her when Hathach relayed Mordecai’s command that she appeal to the king, and she considered the significance of what Mordecai had said for her life and her security. Esther woke up that morning with luxury, comfort, and security, and suddenly Mordecai was pushing her to give it all up potentially to die for the Jews.
I am reminded of the conundrum Moses faced when he was living as an Egyptian prince and went out to see the abuse the Jews were enduring as slaves. Would he cling to the pleasures of royalty, or would he stand with God and God’s people? What a weighty conundrum.
Esther then has Hathach return to Mordecai with the 3rd stage of the conversation.
Stage 3 (vv. 10–12):
There is an obvious tone of fear and reluctance in Esther’s reply because it was dangerous on several levels. She doesn’t even mention the fact that making an appeal would require her to reveal her nationality after keeping it secret for 6 years. She had no idea how the king would react, and of course revealing it would open her up to the slaughter.
Rather, she focuses on the immediate threat, which was that entering the king’s presence unsummoned was a capital crime. This seems unimaginable to us, but Herodotus, the Greek historian, also mentions this law, including the exception that the king could show mercy by extending his scepter.
As well, archaeologists have uncovered images from this time of a Persian king sitting on his throne holding a scepter, and behind him is a guard holding an ax. The threat of death was very real and probably more likely than the extension of grace.
Herodotus also mentions that someone could send a written request to appear before the king. We don’t know why this wasn’t a consideration. Maybe she would have to reveal her purpose in the request, and she thought that would be even more dangerous. Regardless, Esther understood that there was no way she could appeal to the king without risking her life.
Furthermore, Xerxes had not called for her in 30 days. She knew that he had surely been with other women during that stretch. Maybe he had found someone he liked better. Maybe he would happily take the opportunity to move on from Esther. There was no guarantee he would be merciful.
And I’m sure Esther was well aware of how things turned out for Vashti when she broke the king’s command. Xerxes was on record for his opinion of queens who defied his law.
And so Esther didn’t immediately volunteer herself for this courageous mission. Instead, she is full of excuses, though her excuses are significant. Still she is more concerned for her own safety than for the millions of her people including Mordecai who were to be ruthlessly killed.
It didn’t even enter her mind that God could use her for such an important mission. Maybe you can identify. There’s been a time when we have announced a ministry need, and your heart resonates with it, but fear quickly overwhelms that tug as you come up with a list of reasons why you could never do that. Or maybe the Spirit tugs on your heart to share the gospel, but you just can’t risk looking like a fool or losing that relationship. We’ve probably never been asked to risk our lives, but we’ve probably all let fear keep us from seeing an opportunity God has presented. We all know how Esther felt. But thankfully God didn’t give up on Esther, and he doesn’t give up on us.
Hathach delivers Esther’s message, and Mordecai replies with the most famous words in Esther.
Stage 4 (vv. 13–14):
Mordecai makes three arguments, the first of which is rather carnal, but the 2nd and 3rd are powerful statements of faith. First, he tells Esther that she wasn’t as secure in the palace as she thought she was. Vashti had proven the queen enjoyed no guarantees, but I believe Mordecai is ultimately implying the judgment of God. If Esther abandoned God’s people now, God would bring it back on her head one way or another.
But then Mordecai makes the incredible statement of faith that deliverance would come for the Jews whether through Esther or some other way. He doesn’t mention God’s name, but he implies it very strongly. This is an incredible statement because Mordecai had no plan B. But he knew that God would not abandon Israel. He had given Israel promise after promise, especially the promise of the Messiah, and God would not fail to fulfill his promises.
And we can bank on that to. We don’t always know how God will work, but we know that he will. He will build his church. He will work through his Word when we teach it to our kids or present the gospel to family. He will sustain his people and bring us to glory. On and on we could go. We know God will be faithful, and we can trust him even if we don’t know how he will work.
Mordecai’s third argument is the key statement of the book. Again Mordecai does not use God’s name, but he implies God’s providential hand very clearly. This is quite the observation because Mordecai hadn’t seen any visions. He hadn’t observed any miracles, but he knew that God knows the beginning and the end. God knew this dreadful decree was coming, and God is always at work even when we can’t see it accomplishing his perfect will. And so Mordecai looked at the circumstances through the lens of faith and proposes that maybe it wasn’t just chance or Esther’s beauty that landed her in the palace. Maybe God knew what was coming. Maybe God put Esther there so that he could use this humble, fearful orphan girl to rescue his people and preserve his eternal purpose.
Of course, when you read the whole story, it’s obvious that Mordecai is absolutely right. He was beginning to see that all of the seeming random events that had occurred over the past few years were not random at all. Rather, God was at work in all of them accomplishing his incredible purpose.
Praise the Lord that our God does know all things and that we can be absolutely confident that he is at work even when we can’t see it.
Well, Hathach delivered this powerful message from Mordecai to Esther. It would be interesting to know how long she pondered Mordecai’s words. It would be especially fascinating to know what kind of mental and spiritual battle she fought over the significance behind those words. We don’t know the details, but we know that Mordecai’s arguments won Esther’s heart because a very different person emerges in the words of vv. 15–17 from the person we just observed in vv. 10–12. Notice…
Esther’s Resolve (vv. 15–17)
Esther’s answer in v. 16 is relatively short and to the point, but everything about it is noticeably different from what we have seen of her before. First, rather than just quietly going along with the flow, she asserts herself. She is giving the commands now.
Second, she identifies with the Jewish people for the first time in almost 6 years. She tells Mordecai to gather all of the Jews in Susa because they are going to seek God together. And of course she intends to risk her life on their behalf by publically standing with them.
This brings us to a third difference, which is that she expresses dependence on God by calling for a fast. In the Israelite heritage, fasting was always for the purpose of focused prayer. Therefore, while the narrator again skillfully avoids mentioning God’s name, that’s clearly the point of this fast.
It’s worth noting that Esther calls for a pretty severe fast. Normally the Jews would fast from sunrise to sunset, and then take food and drink after dark. However, Esther calls for a fast from food and drink for 3 days and nights.
That’s a long time to go without any food or water. If Esther was counting on gaining the king’s favor by her appearance alone, this was not a good strategy. Obviously Esther recognized that there was a power much greater than her beauty that could influence the king’s heart.
She trusted the Lord, but we need to remember that she didn’t know the end of the story like we do. She had no assurances from God regarding how this would turn out, which brings us to the fourth difference. Esther courageously resolved to sacrifice her life. Esther states the issue pretty bluntly. She would have to commit a capital crime to appeal to the king, but she is resolved in her determination. She states, “If I perish, I perish.” She acknowledges that she may die. She may even be implying that she probably will die. It was very possible that as soon as she walked into that room, the guards would grab her, take her out, and cut her head off. But she still had to do the right thing. She had to try and save her people from this awful decree.
What a powerful statement. I can imagine the weight Hathach felt as he listened to these words, and then as he delivered them to Mordecai. And certainly Mordecai must have been relieved that Esther was persuaded by his message, but his heart must have also sank has he considered what Esther was about to do. And so he gathered the Jews, and they fasted and prayed for the next 3 days like they had probably never done before. So what should we take from this chapter?
What’s the Point?
The message of this chapter is that God’s sovereign purpose must inspire his people to take courageous steps of faith. I’d like to break that down into three thoughts.
God loves to use unassuming servants to accomplish his will. You might wonder where this is coming from because Esther is one of the most beautiful women in the land. Certainly that’s true, but to this point, there is nothing in her character that would lead us to expect her to make such a bold, courageous stand. But the fact is that God rarely uses perfect servants. In fact, he takes great pleasure in using weak things people to do great things (1 Corinthians 1:26–31).
Maybe you feel worthless today. You don’t think you have any great gifts or abilities. You don’t know the Bible all that well, and you have real problems. Maybe you even feel out of place, because you think you are surrounded by people who have it all together. Trust me, we all have problems. Most of us feel it very heavily, and any that don’t are delusional.
But regardless, you feel useless. If so, that’s great, because this passage says God loves to use weak things. You are exactly the kind of person that God wants. Because when God uses you or me, no one can look at that and think, “Wow, what impressive gifts.” No, all they can say is, “Wow, he must serve an awesome God because that person has no business being used like that.” If you feel humble today, be encouraged, because God loves to use humble things.
God has prepared you to fulfill a purpose.
Esther 4:14 tells us that all of the random events in Esther’s life were not random. God was preparing her for something. And I can say on the authority of Scripture that the same is true of you. The abilities you have and the things you have experienced are not random. God has put together every detail of your life including the really bad things and the really good things, the strange things and the boring things.
He has done all of them because he has a unique role for you to fulfill in the life of his church and within his eternal purpose. Do you ever think about that? What kind of people has God uniquely equipped you to serve? How might God use the experiences you have had to minister to someone else? There are lots of people in this church that are facing things that I have never faced. I can point them to God’s truth, but you might have an insight or an ability to sympathize that I don’t have. Again, the events of your life are not random. God has prepared you for something. Are you ready for your “such a time as this”?
We must be ready to step out by faith when opportunity presents itself (cf. Heb 11:24-26).
Esther’s moment of truth came, and she didn’t know how it would turn out, but she knew what the right thing to do was. And she did it. She took a bold and courageous stand for God.
I mentioned earlier how Moses was faced with a similar choice (Hebrews 11:24–26). This passage gives some powerful insight into Moses’s choice in his moment of truth. Moses enjoyed some incredible privileges as a prince in Egypt. He had riches, security, and power like we can hardly imagine. But Moses understood they were just “passing pleasures.” And so he chose to “suffer affliction with the people of God” because by faith he saw that “the reproach of Christ (would bring) greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.”
Folks, God offers so much more in his kingdom than you will ever obtain in this world. And so Christian, don’t let the pull of this world stop you from taking that hard step of faith. Do something courageous for God, and watch God bless. God promises that he will give grace. Jesus already took the ultimate step of courage when he died for you, and he will be with you all the way. He is sufficient, so step out.
But maybe there is someone here for whom the issue is much deeper than simply taking a step of Christian obedience. Maybe you need to be saved. You are sitting there today at a crossroads very much like Moses faced. You are wrestling with whether you will give your life to the pleasures of sin or the pleasures of Christ. You are afraid of the cost of being a disciple, and you aren’t sure you want to take that step. I want to urge you to look at God’s Word to you in Hebrews 11:26. Following Christ means reproach or hardship. But he is worth every sacrifice because he promises greater treasures than you will ever find in Egypt, in America, or anywhere else.
And so come to Christ today. Receive the forgiveness that is available in his death and resurrection and begin a new life of faith looking to his eternal reward.